For Maya Youssef, the act of playing music is the opposite of death; it is a life and hope affirming act. Music is a healer and is an antidote to what is happening, not only in Syria but in the entire world.Maya is a London based Syrian virtuoso of the kanun, a traditional Syrian 78-stringed, plucked zither. Her extraordinary musical gift and generosity of outlook, warmth, humor and optimism have brought comparisons with such legendary virtuosos as Ravi Shankar, Yehudi Menhuin and Meredith Monk. (Max Reinhardt, Presenter Late Junction BBC Radio 3/Global Beats BBC World Service)
Growing up in Damascus, she was Introduced at an early age by her progressive and intellectual family to a huge range of music, from Arabic classical, jazz, fusion and world music to Tibetan chanting and Western classical. She started studying music aged 7 and, initially, reluctantly started learning the violin.
Yet one day, on her way to the music institute in a taxi, the driver was playing a recording of an enchanting instrument that blew her mind: the kanun!
She asked the taxi driver which instrument they were listening to and told him she was determined to learn it. His reply shocked her but also kindled a flame. He told her that girls did not play the kanun and that it was only played by men. This triggered her rebellious side and she told him she would learn to play it anyway. He laughed at her.
That same day the head of the institute announced that a kanun class was open for enrolment. Five years later, Maya won Syria’s National Best Young Musician Award for her kanun performance.
In 2007 she graduated with a BA in Music from the High Institute of Music and Dramatic Arts in Damascus and another in English literature from the University of Damascus. After her studies in Syria, Maya moved to Dubai and then Oman to pursue her career and teach kanun and Arabic music theory (maqam) at Sultan Qabous University. Fairly quickly after, she found herself being interviewed by leading Arabic TV channels such as MBC, Dubai TV, Abu Dhabi TV, Rotana and Alhurra TV.
In 2012, Maya moved to London as part of Arts Council England’s “Exceptional Talent” scheme, where 300 artists are selected each year from around the world to migrate to the UK. Since then, she had numerous features on the BBC and collaborated with musicians from various backgrounds, e.g. Club Inégales’ Jazz experimental band, Flamenco guitarist Myrddin, African kora player Sura Suso, Indian tabla player Kuljit Bhamra, electronic music artist Lorenzo Bianchi, Korean flute (taegum) player Hyelim Kim and UK exploratory string players The Elysian Quartet.
Along side Max Reinhardt, Maya co-composed music for “The Bounce”; an Oily Cart kinesthetic show for children with special educational needs. This later lead her to researching “Music Healing for Syrian Refugee Children” as a PhD project she is currently pursuing at SOAS, University of London.
Maya has performed at major UK festivals and venues, like Union Chapel, Celtic Connections, BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Bath Festivals and Celebrating Sanctuary at the Southbank and she is currently working on her first debut album which will be produced by the fabled Joe Boyd (Pink Floyd/ Warner Brothers Music) and released later in 2017.
Download Arabic Bio (.pdf)